The ancient Games at Olympia began simply with foot races, only occasionally complicated by dressing the runners in infantry armour or making them carry soldiers’ shields. Today, athletics remains one of the most popular Olympic sports.
Women’s track and field athletics began at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, growing steadily to an almost identical programme to the men’s. Since women’s steeplechase was added at Beijing in 2008, the only differences are that men have an extra walk at 50km and a decathlon rather than a heptathlon.
The IOC sets minimum qualifying times for each running event. Those that achieve this minimum standard, and are selected by their National Olympic Committee, compete at the Olympic Games. Track events are decided by running heats, with the top two to four athletes qualifying for the next round all the way up to the final.
Athletics can be divided into four areas: track events ranging from 100m sprints to long distance races of 10,000m; field events such as long jump, discus and javelin; road events comprising the marathons and long distance walks; and the combined events of heptathlon for women and decathlon for men.